Thursday, April 29, 2010

PREVIEW: CARMEN at the MET Opera HD Live is SOLD OUT!

Congratulations to the organizers of the MET Opera HD Live screening in Hong Kong! I just found out yesterday all screenings for Bizet’s Carmen on March 15 and 16 are sold-out. Part of me is elated that the event is doing so well, while another part of me is annoyed that I was not able to get a ticket! This brings to the idea that perhaps the organizers ought to start thinking of opening the series up for subscription. I am saying this because I don’t encounter this problem with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra or the Hong Kong Arts Festival.



photo: coutesy of The Metropolitan Opera


In any case, I am not surprised that Carmen is sold out. If there is one opera that will be sold out, it has to be this one. Carmen is one of the most accessible opera; thus one of the most performed in the world. The opera has a lot of good stuff going for it. It has a soldier, a gypsy and a bullfighter in a love triangle (with a bonus maiden for a secondary triangle) set in the exotic city of Seville. On top of it, the opera contains a series of melodious and memorable arias that even people who haven’t seen the opera would be quite familiar with.

The opera has reincarnated (while still being very much alive) into several forms. There’s the 1954 film, Carmen Jones, adapted by Oscar Hammerstein II starring Harry Belafonte and Dorothy Dandridge. There’s also the Carmen: The Hip Hopera starring Beyonce in 2001. Only last year, the digital animation motion picture UP used Michael Giacchino’s adaptation of Habanera!

So what’s so interesting about this MET production of Carmen? For me, it would be Elina Garanca, Richard Eyre and Roberto Alagna, in that order.

I know of Elina Garanca through her recordings prior to seeing her performed live as Dorabella in Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte at the Royal Opera House in London. She was particularly funny and sang beautifully to the point of overshadowing Dorothea Roschmann’s Fiordiligi. After the performance, I went backstage to visit my friend who was playing Despina. Along the way, I bumped into Elina and boy, she was beautiful (read HD-ready) in person and unbelievably tall! This brings me to my curiosity as to how she and Roberto Alagna will look on stage given that Alagna is not very tall (tall tenors are hard to come by). This is not to mention Alagna’s famous walk-out in La Scala that prompted Zeffirelli to say, “Alagna does not know how to act like a true star.” As for Richard Eyre, I am familiar with his name for his production of the Mary Poppins in London and Broadway, which is extremely beautiful and effective. The production was very commercial (which will render well for the equally “commercial” Carmen) yet not predictable. He was able to inject magic and yet not eclipse the story.

Oh well, for those who were able to get tickets, good for you. For those who were not able to, let us hope that it will come out in DVD soon!

Check-out the below references: one from Elina's performance in Baden-Baden in January 2009 and one from the MET HD Live.

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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

PREVIEW: Offenbach's Orphée aux enfers by the City Opera of Hong Kong

While writing the preview on Manon (see PREVIEW: Massenet’s Manon by the Opera Hong Kong), I found out that there is another opera... well operetta... that's going to be staged in Hong Kong. This time it is by the City Opera of Hong Kong! Well, I have to say that this is the first time I have heard of this organization and I thought that I am the ultimate culture-vulture in Hong Kong!



Apparently, City Opera has presented Die Fledermaus last year! Again, I didn't know that. They had people like Vincent Chung, Amy Chan, Oliver Lo, Sylvia Chen, Thomas Chan, Julia Chen, etc sang (I assume); The Hong Kong Medical Association Orchestra played and Woo Zun Hin conducted. To be honest, I don't know any of them and have never heard of these people; BUT I am curious and will check them out.

My expectation is definitely very very low. I wouldn't be surprised that it will be a bad amateur production; but then, I hope I am wrong and also I believe in "encouragement"... So here it is:

Orphée aux enfers: An Operetta by Offenbach

Date: 9 June (Wed) & 10 June (Thu)
Venue: Hong Kong City Hall, Concert Hall
Time: 7:30pm
Tickets: $480, $380, $280


Tickets are available at all URBTIX outlets

NOTE:

City Opera will feature Cantonese dialogues whilst all the singing parts will remain to be in French. Seemingly, this aligns their "guiding principle to incorporate localized elements in opera performance." and "The fusion of language as a part of the dramatic treatment, together with the use of traditional French scenes as our set and props, will bring about another engaging and memorable performance to Hong Kong opera lovers."


For more information (actually, there's really no more significant information in these websites... but still, check if you don't believe me):


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PREVIEW: Massenet’s Manon by the Opera Hong Kong

When I went to the screening of The MET’s Der Rosenkavalier last April 25 at Wellcome Theatre at the Bethanie, I overheard a lady complaining during dinner that she just found out that Massenet’s Manon will be performed in Hong Kong. With this, other ladies at the table gasped and a series of complain about how these things are poorly marketed surfaced. So here I am, informing and imploring you to go and see it.


Manon is going to be co-presented by Opera Hong Kong and Le French May. It will be staged at the Grand Theatre, Hong Kong Cultural Centre on 6th & 8th May, 2010 at 7:30pm. The production is a result of cooperation of Opéra de Nice, Opéra Théâtre d’Avignon et des Pays de Vaucluse, Opéra de Massy and Grand Théâtre de Reims. Manon is an opera comique by the French composer Jules Massenet. The libretto is by Henri Meilhac and Philippe Gille, based on the 1731 novel L’histoire du chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut by the Abbé Prévost.

Manon tells about a young girl embarking on a journey that will eventually tear her apart between her passionate love for a young student and her increasing need for material riches and comfort as a mistress of a rich man. It is the quintessential example of the music and culture of the Parisian Belle Epoque times. The role of Manon, in fact, has such a heavy vocal demand that Beverly Sills coined it as the “French Isolde”!

Singing the role of Manon Lescaut is the French Soprano Nathalie Manfrino. Going through her biography in her website (http://www.nathaliemanfrino.fr), she seems to have the right experience and ingredients to occupy the role; and I am looking forward to seeing her. Joining her are Tenor Florian Laconi, Bass Marcel Vanaud along with some of Hong Kong’s own talents such as Joyce Wong, Melody Sze, Carol Lin and Albert Lim. The orchestra will be conducted by Maestro Nicola Colabianchi.

See more about it in the following websites:
• http://www.operahongkong.org/
• http://www.frenchmay.com/posts/program_detail/2

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Sunday, April 25, 2010

REVIEW: Der Rosenkavalier in The Metropolitan Opera HD Live

Graham + Fleming combination was totally unbeatable!

photo: courtesy of star.com

Yes, the production can be composed of an empty stage and I will still go to this screening of Richard Strauss’ Der Rorsenkavalier last night, 25th of April at the Wellcome Theatre at the Bethanie. Susan Graham as Octavian and Renee Fleming as Marschallin was a casting of paramount importance. Not only because they are some of the best singers in their voice categories, they were also performing their signature roles. They are also good friends that will definitely benefit their performance as lovers. The pressure, in this case, was really more on how they compete with their previous selves given that they have performed these roles for more than 10 years already.

Susan Graham was every bit Octavian (well, maybe lacking one tiny bit). Standing at 6 ft. tall, her height made her portrayal of a 17 year old count more believable. Her rich and luxuriant voice delivered a smooth and heartfelt performance; the way I remember her as Donna Elvira in Mozart’s Don Giovanni when I saw her the first time performed live at the Lyric Opera of Chicago in 2004.

Renee Fleming has such a high place in my mind that subconsciously, I will try to rationalize whatever fault my logical mind detected. While I do have a slight dislike to her ever-increasing tendency to croon, her Marschallin was just sumptuous and extremely touching. The first time I saw her performed live was as Donna Anna in Mozart’s Don Giovanni at The Metropolitan Opera in 2000. Whatever shimmer lost in her voice was more than compensated by the improved depth of her characterization and wider range of colors in her voice.

Christine Schafer as Sophie was another attraction. Though I haven’t seen Christine performed live before, I do have and enjoyed her recordings of German lieders. As it turned out, her lyric soprano voice was a bit dark for my taste. Timbre aside, her high registers were solid. Her characterization, however, was one-dimensional. When she was having her duets with Susan in the final act, one can feel that she was not comfortable and not committed to the scene.

Kristinn Sigmundsson proved to be an absolutely perfect fit for the role of Baron Ochs. He was boorish and booming, and yet he knew the limit so as to contain the character to remain lovable.

Our very “own”, Edo de Waart, led The Met Opera Orchestra with razor-sharp precision and bravura. While some people might find the energy too much and the lyrical passages lack warmth, I think it was quite refreshing to hear the opera not played with the usual sentimental drag. This is even more important in relation to Robert O’Hearn’s set and costume. Yes, it was beautiful and it was so nice to see its splendors all set out; but it would be just unbearable to hear a schmaltzy reading of the opera to go with it.

The biggest fault of the screening, however, was the sound. I suspect that the primary fault was not of the system used in the Wellcome Theatre, but rather on how the opera was recorded. Assuming that the recording engineer did a sound check prior to the performance, the recording sounded as if the orchestra played significantly louder during the performance itself. With this, the sound recording of the singers was therefore jacked up to balance the overall effect, which caused the whole sound to appear as if the microphones were placed to closely.

The usual backstage interviews that I was so looking forward to were hosted by Placido Domingo. Hmmm… the segments were too diplomatic and managed. It actually showed off Placido badly as it was too obvious that he was reading the prompter SLOWLY. How I wish they had Dolora Zajick instead (Why? Check out my review of Aida – March 2010).

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REVIEW: Berezovsky Plays Tchaikovsky with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra

Berezovsky owned the stage by sharing it.


Berezovsky Plays Tchaikovsky with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra performed almost to a full house last night, 24th of April, at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall with Perry So conducting.


It was an all-Russian programme. The concert started with Anatol Liadov's The Enchanted Lake, Op. 62. While Liadov's Baba Yaga, Op. 56 performed by The Mariinsky Orchestra and led by Valery Gergiev last month was charming, The Echanted Lake, Op. 62 performed by the HKPO led by Perry So was... hmmm... enchanting? While I expected the Russians to excel in their own music, the performance of the HKPO last night was equally good! The piece, does not have a "story-line" but instead, it was a coloring that almost felt like a wand performing a series of waves and strokes that showcased what magical things it can do.


Then in came Boris Berezovsky. He strutted onto the stage looking like a rock star, sat down and made the piano looked rather small. And there I was, expecting Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor, Op. 23 to be played by this big man in a heavy and showy manner. As the four descending notes announced the start of the piece, soon came hammering down the a series of crashing piano chords from Berezovsky. What followed afterward, however, caught me off-guard. Suddenly, the music sounded no longer like some kind of Soviet propaganda that I have associated it with; but instead, it was subtle, personal and poetic. Suddenly, it was no longer all about the piano; but instead, about the relationship between the piano and the orchestra. It was no longer a tag-team sport; but instead, simply a team sport. It was utterly beautiful.


Berezovsky received a well-deserved resounding applause from the audience. The audience were ecstatic. Berezovsky was very gracious to give two encores. One of them was the 3rd movement and this time, it was even better! It was almost as if the pressure was off and now he can play with ease, pleasure and abandonment. Both encores were warmly welcomed by a very grateful audience.


After the interval came Sergei Prokofiev's Symphony No. 5 in B flat, Op. 100. It started off very unsure, but slowly warmed up. Things began to sound "right" at the end of the 1st movement and the 2nd movement was played with more purpose. The 3rd movement sounded like a Soviet military funeral music (not sure whether this was a valid proposition), but 4th movement was preformed wondrously potent and alive.


Was I just totally intoxicated by the Tchaikovsky's Piano 1, that I have difficulty shaking it off and enjoy the Prokofiev's Symphony 1? I don't know and will not know. Overall though, it was a very very good evening that delightfully wrapped up a beautiful sunny day.


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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

PREVIEW: Queen of Baroque - Dame Emma Kirkby (HK DEBUT)

photo courtesy of CCCOHK

I was kind of surprised to find out that Dame Emma Kirkby is coming to Hong Kong. All the more, that it will be her first time performing in Hong Kong! Hong Kong, with its British connection, I would have thought that she had already performed in Hong Kong several times. The name Emma Kirkby is so monumental to early music that I can't believe that I will be seeing her perform on May 6 8pm at the Hong Kong City Hall Concert Hall. She will be performing with the City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong under the baton of guest conductor Simon Over.

Okay, I am now over with my outburst of enthusiasm and is in a more pensive mood. When was the last time I listened to her recordings? It must be years ago and for only one track. I was comparing the different recordings of Vivaldi's "Agitata da due venti" from the opera Griselda. In the lot were Emma Kirkby, Monserrat Caballe, Cecilia Bartoli and Simone Kermes. The styles were very different. While I like Bartoli's the most, Kirkby and Caballe's interpretation seemed to be of a different era where early music was sang in a more straight-forward manner with emphasis on sustained vocal modulation and less stress on drama. Some scholars of early music would insist that Kirkby's style is the only right way of singing early music. In her recordings, Kirkby's soprano voice was bright and sweet in tone and her singing was of great warmth, clarity and lightness.

At the age of 61, what will her voice be like? Will her singing style be different now from what it used to be?

Queen of Baroque: Dame Emma Kirkby with the City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong
06.05.2010(Thursday) 8pm Hong Kong City Hall Concert Hall
Dame Emma Kirkby soprano
Simon Over guest conductor
performing music of Purcell, Bach, Mozart and Haydn

(from CCOHK's website - http://www.ccohk.com/)
Dame Emma Kirkby is one of the world's most renowned Early Music specialists. She was voted Artist of the Year by Classic FM Radio listeners in 1999, and in a survey run by BBC Music Magazine in 2007, she appeared in the top 10 of "The 20 greatest sopranos". She features regularly aroud the world with many of the leading early music chamber orchestras, notably the Academy of Ancient Music, Freiburger Barockorchester, London Baroque and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. Dame Emma Kirkby is a prolific recording artist. Despite her extensive recording activities, she still prefers giving live concerts. Do not miss her long anticipated debut in Hong Kong!
Tickets available from URBTIX from 06.05.10 (Tel: 2734 9009)
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Sunday, April 18, 2010

REVIEW: Showstopper! The Improvised Musical

Showstopper! was brilliant tonight... I don't know about the other nights...
April 18 evening performance was the last performance of the Showstopper! at the Drama Theatre, The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts. It was not packed but the audience was very receptive and rewarded the show with very warm applause.

Showstopper! prided itself of producing a full-length brand-new musical every night (or afternoon) during the run. What happened was that a facilitator tried to gain topics and keywords from the audience to decide on the title, the topic, and the musical styles that the show will be based on. Then... the improvisation began.

Well, the musical was the worst I have ever seen. But what do you expect? It was written in two hours! The brilliance of the show, however, was not the destination but the journey. It was how each actor picked up something thrown at them, built on it and offered it to other actors who willingly accepted it and continued to build on it. It was how the actors never tried to take the easy road (most of the time), but instead offered brilliant and naughty twists and turns to the blossoming plot. It was how the audience were kept at the edge of their seats (figuratively since the seats were built for hobbits) anticipating and worrying whether the actors will be able to come up with something or not; or better, something funny and creative.

It was not surprising to see some formulaic creative patterns particularly in the song-writing aspect. The time signature was pretty standard, rhyming was elementary ('true' to rhyme with 'you' came up several times) and song structure was pretty much '4-line verse + 4-line verse + chorus + repeat chorus + milk the chorus until it dies gloriously'. However, even with such patterns, I can't imagine improvising being easy.

The actors were all fantastic. There were some very serious acting and singing there. I particularly like Julie Clare and Philip Pellew for their amazing improvisation and performance. Lucy Trodd offered some brilliant one liners, while Adam Meggido and Ruth Bratt brought some wonderful twists to the plot.

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REVIEW: Sarah Chang Plays Bruch with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra

I would not have minded leaving during the interval.
Sarah Chang plays Bruch, a Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra concert, played almost to a full house on April 17 2010 at the Hong Kong Cultural Center Concert Hall.

The concert started with John Adams' The Black Gondola. I haven't heard this piece before; thus I was expecting minimalist piece. After all, I know John Adams through his works like the Nixon in China, Short Ride in a Fast Machine, On the Transmigration of Soul and Doctor Atomic Symphony. The Black Gondola, on the other hand, is quite different and that is because it is based on (or an orchestration of) Liszt's La Lugubre Gondola. The orchestration pushed the piece beyond Liszt's Romantic style to a more Modern treatment that amplified the desolation of the piece. The orchestra led by Andreas Delfs was tight and played beautifully.

The highlight followed with Sarah Chang taking the lead in Max Bruch's Violin Concerto No.1 in G minor, Op.26. I do love this piece of music and it was great to hear it live with a gifted violinist. The concerto is one of the most popular Romantic violin concertos with its wonderfully melodic lines. Expectedly, Sarah was fantastic and HKPO lived up to the challenge amply. Sarah's precise intonation, sensitive bow control and exciting showmanship made the evening. In fact, they are all interesting to watch also! The linking of the different movements actually heightened the interaction between the soloist and the orchestra. It was like a continuous relay or a watching a tag team sport.

Now, after the interval came Johannes Brahm's Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 68. I didn't like it and it is to no fault of the HKPO. I just simply do not like Brahm's symphonies. Everytime I say this, some people will be appalled and will give me the whole sermon about his popularity, influence and him being one of the great three B's (Bach and Beethoven being the other two)of classical music. I am not so sure why I don't like his symphonies, I can only guess that I find them too academic or scientific for music of Romantic period. I can't help feel like shouting, 'Get on with it! Stop beating around the bush! What are you trying to say?' Yes, it is my problem.

REFERENCE:
John Adams' The Black Gondola




Max Bruch's Violin Concerto No.1 in G minor, Op.26. with Sarah Chang + James Levine


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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

REVIEW: The Ballet, A Sue Jin Kang Gala

The program was varied and it brought out the best from the dancers.

Ballerina Sue Jin Kang in "The Lady of Camellias" photo courtesy of Credia


The Ballet was on for three nights at the Opera Theatre of the Seoul Art Centre in South Korea from April 9 to 11. I went to the opening night and I am glad I did. The star of the evening was the Korean ballerina Sue Jin Kang, a principal dancer at the Stuttgart Ballet. In 1985, she won the Prix de Lausanne and became a member of the Stuttgart Ballet the following year. She was then appointed Soloist in 1994 and Pricipal Dancer in 1997. At the age of 43, she is in great form.

Joining Ms. Kang were some equally good dancers like Marijn Rademaker (Dutch Principal Dancer at the Stuttgart Ballet), Jason Reilly (Canadian Principal Dancer at the Stuttgart Ballet), Ivan Cavallari (Artistic Director at the West Australian Ballet), and some dancers from the West Australian Ballet.

The program was a mixture of classical ballet, modern dance and predominantly modern ballet. The solos and the pas de deux were definitely the highlights. In the first half, Affi choreographed by Marco Goeke and performed by Marijn Rademaker to the music of Johnny Cash was stunning. It was a piece charaterized with a lot of body contortions that resonates the angsts, confusions and momentary elations in Cash's songs. Vapour Plains, choreographed by Evan Mckie and performed by Sue Jin Kang and Jason Reilly closed the first half. This pas de deux was a challenge on sustained lifts as Ms. Kang almost never fully touch the floor until the vey end. The partnership and trust between Ms. Kang and Mr. Reilly were most admirable as the movements were executed with precise and sustained line and fluidity.




The highlights in the second half were Ballet 101 and The Lady of Camellias excerpts. The Ballet 101, choreographed by Eric Gauthier and performed by Jason Reilly, was a demostration of all the different positions in ballet. This was by a voiceover and demonstrated by Mr. Reilly. This, then slowly progressed into a dance by command "test" until Mr. Reilly was dancing so fast that he exploded into pieces. Mr. Reilly did a fantastic job in showing off his technical prowess while keeping the whole piece light and funny.

Before an excerpt of The Lady of Camellias was performed, there was a thoroughly unnecessary long piano performance from Ji Yong. While he was playing, a video of Sue Jin Kang performing The Lady of Camellias was shown in the background. The whole sequence looked like a memorial and I was kind of waiting for somebody to come on stage to announce that Ms. Kang had suddenly died! The subsequent performance of Sue Jin Kang and Marijn Rademaker though was a fine example of sustained elegance combined with palpable emotional death... I mean depth.



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REVIEW: Shanghai Symphony Orchestra in Taipei

The expectation was not high yet the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra still fell short.
The Shanghai Symphony Orchestra conducted by Long Yu performed at the National Concert Hall in Taipei, Taiwan last 6th of April. It didn’t escape me that the program book just simply mentioned the venue as “Taipei” and nothing about the “National Concert Hall” as I believe that the word “National” would have been too political. I can’t help thinking “politically” also because the whole atmosphere was charged with it. The concert coincided with the visit of the Mayor of Shanghai, the Mayor of Shanghai was in the audience, tycoons and CEO’s were also there, the audience was over-enthusiastic, security was tight, and media people were all over the place.

The first half of the concert featured 3 singers: soprano Ying Huang (last seen in Hong Kong as Pamina in the opera The Magic Flute), Hong Kong’s very own tenor Warren Mok, and baritone Changyong Liao. I kind of expected that Ying Huang would be the best amongst the three of them, while Changyong Liao would be the least. Boy was I wrong. Ying Huang was in poor shape in her performance of Je Veux Vivre from Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette. While the tone was sweet, she had some pitch problem. The problem became more obvious in her second song I Live at One End of the Yangtzi River (a very popular Chinese art song by Qing Zhu), where she had difficulty sustaining some of the fluid high notes. Warren Mok performed Fond de Temple Saint from Bizet’s Les Pecheursde Perles with Changyao. The rendition was respectable but very idiosyncratic. Warren also performed the ever-popular Nessum Dorma from Puccini’s Turandot. The performance was ample if one did not have to look at him. Changyong Liao gave a solid performance in both his solos, Largo al factotum della Citta from Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia and Huang Zi’s Homesickness. His robust baritone voice shaped each phrase beautifully with histrionics in check.

Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 in e minor, Op. 64 filled up the second half. The performance was quite unbalanced with the strings dominating most of the times. While the strings have significantly improved based on my experience with the orchestra years ago, the sound was bland. The strings sounded as if the orchestra has been issued standard instruments all from the same factory rendering a solid sound yet not rich and lack in color. But then I could be wrong, the audience seems to like the performance so much that there was passionate applause even in between movements.

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Thursday, April 1, 2010

REVIEW: Les Contes d'Hoffmann in The Metropolitan Opera HD Live

The magic of The Metropolitan Opera HD Live screening continues.

Photo: courtesy of The Metropolitan Opera

The Wellcome Theatre at the Bethanie was less than half full on the 28th of March noontime and the organizers seem to attribute this to the Rugby Sevens. Though I thought that the target markets of these two events would have very little overlap, I can’t help but hope that it was true. I dread the day that this little piece of heaven would stop existing because the market is just not big enough. I don’t think Hong Kong people knows how lucky they are to have this in their city, while I have friends traveling to Hong Kong from Bangkok and Manila for the weekend just to be able to come to the screening.

The one thing that I was looking forward to in this screening of Jaques Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann was the production. This new production was by the acclaimed director Bartlett Sher. My first encounter of his work was in April 2008. His revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “South Pacific” at the Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theatre blew me away. It was sleek and distilled, the clarity of vision was so effective in exploring the emotional core of the musical.

For this production, Sher has once again infused the experience with a clear voice. The dark and Kafka-like air was very helpful in blurring the line between reality and imagination. In this interpretation, the tales of Hoffman were tall, a hodgepodge of different “realities” merging with each other all stringed together by three constant forces, Hoffman, Niklausse/The Muse and Four Villains.

Part of the experience in watching a MET production is that it always has a starry cast. Names like Joseph Calleja and especially Anna Netrebko were enough reasons for me to attend. However, for this particular screening, it was the singers that I was not familiar with that enchanted me. HD-ready Kate Lindsey as Nicklausse/The Muse was enthrallingly androgynous. Her mezzo voice was warm and her acting was subtle. I actually have difficulty taking my eyes off her! Kathleen Kim as Olympia was frighteningly doll-like with her size and physique. Her showpiece aria was dispatched with great accuracy, impressive agility and endearing cuteness! She was so cute that the image of her and Hoffmann dancing together was a bit disturbing. It made Hoffmann looked like he was playing with a Barbie doll or he was dating a little girl. Disturbing it was and congratulations to Sher.

Though Joseph Calleja as Hoffman may not be much of an actor, the sheer stamina combined with secured singing in such a daunting formidable role was more than enough by any standards. Anna Netrebko’s Antonia was vocally full-bodied and heart-wrenching, while her Stella was captivating.

Once again, the biggest bonus in these MET screenings were the backstage interviews. For this screening, they had Deborah Voigt as the host. My personal favorites were Anna Netrebko’s funny antics while Bartlett Sher was being interviewed, the insights set designer Michael Yeargan and the costume designer Catherine Zuber shared and of course the diva-to-diva talk between Voigt and Netrebko. A funny and bizarre moment cropped up when Voigt started talking about her scarf and how the audience can also have one by going to the newly-renovated MET Shop or by shopping online, this had the audience laughing noisily.

I am so looking forward to the next screening which will be Richard Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier. It will have more stars than I can bear! For more information check out: http://www.themetinhongkong.info/

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REVIEW: Valery Gergiev and The Mariinsky Orchestra

Two nights of The Mariinsky Orchestra showed very varied strengths and weaknesses.
To close the 38th Hong Kong Arts Festival, “Valery Gergiev and The Mariinsky Orchestra” had two different programmes for two different nights at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall. On the 27th of March, they had a predominantly Richard Wagner programme, while they had an all-Russian programme on the 28th of March.

On the 27th of March, I heard The Mariinsky Orchestra in the matinee performance of Britten’s The Turn of the Screw. I was totally besotted by the rich and emotionally-charged sound it produced. I was so looking forward to hear them perform Wagner’s Act III of Die Walkure.

The evening started off with Richard Wagner’s Prelude to Lohengrin – Act III. The warning signs were there. Even though the orchestra sounded rich and tight, there was a lack of drama. It sounded too measured, and not emotionally charged. This was followed by Piotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Fantasia Overture. Now this totally dispelled any doubt I had in the Lohengrin piece. When it came to the much-awaited Die Walkure Act III, the same measured performance was heard. The orchestra sounded as it was playing a supporting role when it should be sharing the lead role with the singing.

Technically speaking, this was the first time I heard the complete Die Walkure Act III performed live. A few years back, when I attended my first Die Walkure performance at the Royal Opera House, Bryn Terfel playing Wotan had some vocal problem. Though he was on stage during Act III, a significant portion of the higher notes were sung an octave lower if not totally forsaken. This time, Wotan was once again vocally-challenged. Alexei Tanovitsky’s Wotan, though sung with great emotion and nuances, had difficulty producing the higher notes required and maintaining his composure. Olga Savova’s Brunhilde sounded better, while Yekaterina Shimanovich’s Sieglinde sounded best with secured sound that was full of distress and plea. The performance may be far from perfect, but it was such a great pleasure to hear Die Walkure performed live.

On the 28th of March, the all-Russian programme was definitely a more familiar territory for the orchestra. Whether the sound was a result of the programme or the programme happened to suit to the sound, I am not sure.

They started the night with Anatoly Liadov’s Baba Yaga, Op 56 which was a charming little piece. Sergey Prokofiev’s Symphony No.1 in D, Op 25 – Classical followed with vivid and dazzling elegance. It was served properly proportioned and balanced. Every now and then, as the music turned a corner, the performance would hand out a little twist, a bit of fun or a speck of tease… a total delight. The final piece was Dmitry Shostakovich’s Symphony No.7 in C, Op 60 – Leningrad. While I do like Shostakovich’s music, I can’t say that Leningrad is one of my favorite. It was performed well but not well enough for me to like it or even entice me to revisit it.

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